Is FMCSA listening?

April 1, 2011
After recently attending the hours-of-service listening session hosted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in Crystal City, VA, I was told a quick anecdote by a TCA member

After recently attending the hours-of-service listening session hosted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in Crystal City, VA, I was told a quick anecdote by a TCA member. “These sessions are a lot like discussions with my wife,” he said, “and like all my discussions with her, she often concludes with the phrase, ‘Are you really listening to me?’” In other words, after the recent notice of proposed rulemaking regarding the hours-of-service regulations, several listening sessions hosted prior to issuing the notice, and already thousands of comments filed in opposition to the notice, he, as well as most of the industry, wonders whether or not the agency is actually listening to us.

Issues such as the 34-hour restart, the 10-hour driving time, the 30-minute break and the lack of flexible sleeper berth provisions were all concerns expressed by the industry. In addition to the usual alphabet soup of players such as TCA, ATA, CVSA and OOIDA, drivers and carriers alike were well represented to voice their concerns over the recent proposal. However, what leads to the anecdote above is that this listening session almost mirrors exactly what was held last summer with the exception that the industry now has an actual proposal on which to comment. So now I can only ask on behalf of an industry that makes safety a priority: Is the agency really listening to us? I can only assume at this point, after witnessing listening sessions both before the proposed rulemaking and afterwards, that they are not.

I would like to note that while TCA supports FMCSA in its goal of making our highways safer, we cannot support a rulemaking that lacks the practical sense as this one seems to. As a constant advocate of compliance, TCA believes the new rule proposed by the agency lacks an ease of understanding. Further, we think the new rule will make compliance much more difficult to enforce. While we as an industry have demonstrated that the current hours-of-service rule is effective, we also remind the agency that the settlement agreement reached between FMCSA and various public interest groups did not obligate it to change the rules, only review and reconsider. In this sense, the industry is encouraging the agency to abandon this proposal and create a rule that gives the trucking industry the flexibility it needs to operate safely in the diverse market that is the United States economy.

To that end, I would like to think that the agency is acting in the best interests of trucking and recognizing that this is an industry that prides itself in its safety numbers and strives every day to improve upon them. This rule could actually expose a carrier and driver to greater risk on our nation's roadways. If it is finalized as written, this rule has a greater chance of being more dangerous to drivers by having them drive at times when road congestion is at its peak, exposing them to a greater crash risk.

I implore the agency to trust in our industry, which delivers freight safely each and every day, and rely upon those who understand the rigors of the road to develop an hours-of-service rule that works. FMCSA should listen to commenters who ask for greater flexibility for an industry that needs this flexibility to adjust delivery times to when it is actually safer for drivers to be on the roadways.

David Heller, CDS, is director of safety and policy for the Truckload Carriers Assn. He is responsible for interpreting and communicating industry-related regulations and legislation to the membership of TCA. Send comments to [email protected].

About the Author

David Heller

David Heller is the senior vice president of safety and government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association. Heller has worked for TCA since 2005, initially as director of safety, and most recently as the VP of government affairs. Before that, he spent seven years as manager of safety programs for American Trucking Associations.

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